Angola is kingmaker in Kinshasa
Former Democratic Republic of Congo president Laurent Desiré Kabila was buried in Kinshasa on Tuesday amid tight security, almost exclusively provided by Zimbabwean and Angolan troops.
His son, Joseph, was nominated as the next president by the Parliament hand-picked by Kabila last year.
He will take the oath of office by the end of the week.
That Congolese troops were kept away for the funeral, during which Kabila was, ironically, lauded for his efforts to liberate his country from “foreign powers”, is a clear indication of the deep divisions within the Congolese armed forces (FAC).
Reports have emerged that troops from Kabila’s home province of Katanga executed nearly 400 FAC soldiers from the eastern Congolese provinces of South and North Kivu immediately after Kabila’s assassination, in an apparent escalation of a major purge of officers and politicians from the east begun by Kabila himself last year. Kabila’s reputed killer, Kasereka Rashidi, is also said to hail from the Kivus, suggesting that the motive for the killing was to halt the purge and the Katangan takeover.
The FAC’s Katangan troops, which are predominantly Luba, have close ties with the ruling Angolan MPLA, having fought alongside it inside Angola for decades in its war against Unita. Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos hosted a summit in Luanda on Sunday with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Namibian President Sam Nujoma, where it was decided to boost their troop levels inside the country.
Most of the reinforcements were deployed to the capital Kinshasa and Congo’s second city, Lubumbashi, but fresh Angolan troops have apparently also been sent to Dubie, a tiny hamlet a few kilometres away from Pweto in eastern Katanga, which was recently captured by the Rwandan Patriotic Army, making it the new front line in the conflict in the east. Congolese rebels are wary of a possible fresh offensive against them, but the new allied deployments appear mainly designed to prevent opportunistic attacks from the rebels themselves.
Dos Santos, Mugabe and Nujoma attended Kabila’s funeral, where they were warmly welcomed by Kinshasa residents, many of whom are now convinced that “foreign forces” were responsible for Kabila’s death. Anti-white sentiment is running high in the capital—several foreign journalists have been robbed and beaten while covering the story, and some of the diplomatic motorcades on the way to the funeral were pelted with stones by angry crowds.
The three presidents met Joseph Kabila after the funeral service and pledged to support him. Joseph Kabila himself has said very little so far in public, except to state, in terms that echo his late father’s, that “aggressors” must be “driven out” of Congo. This statement, and the news this week that rebel positions in Katanga and near the north-west front line of Mbandaka have been bombed by the FAC, has not encouraged those hoping that the change in leadership in Kinshasa would boost the currently moribund Lusaka peace agreement, signed by Congo’s belligerents in 1999.
Yet the Zimbabwean and Angolan governments both have good reason to move the Lusaka process forwards. For Mugabe, the main considerations are the huge cost of the Congo war, and the popularity of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s call for Zimbabwean troops to come home. Meanwhile, the Angolan government has discovered that merely having an ally, or even a puppet, for a president in Kinshasa, does nothing in itself to close down Unita’s operations in Congo, which remains the Angolan government’s key war aim.
Unita diamond merchants apparently resumed operations in Kinshasa late last year, taking advantage of the ever-diminishing capacity of the central authorities, and the Angolan government appears now to realise that what it really needs in Congo is a government with the capacity to govern. This in turn requires an end to the war, and a political process that results in a regime with at least a claim to legitimacy, that the international community can support.
Angola’s rapprochement with Rwanda and Uganda, who back Congo’s rebel movements, began in earnest last year, assisted behind-the-scenes by the United States administration, which apparently hosted talks in Washington between the heads of Rwandan and Angolan intelligence in November. The rapprochement still has a way to go, not least because of the competition on all sides for Congo’s resources, and the rivalry between the Rwandan and Ugandan governments, who have been whispering of each other’s involvement with Unita during talks with visiting Angolan delegations.
Even more serious, perhaps, is the Kivus-Katanga rift in the FAC. The continued purge of those from the Kivus since Kabila’s death may be the safest short-term option for the Congo government, but it comes with a cost, since the inevitable reaction, when it comes, is certain to perpetuate the war, and Congo’s suffering.